The C. A. McAdams Family

Our American Roots

by Charles G. Petersen

Charles Andrew McAdams Picture

Early moves
Charles Andrew McAdams was not a tall man, in fact he was rather short, maybe 5'4" or 5'5" but he had a big generous heart and a great sense of humor. He was born on April 9th in western Ohio in 1876, the third son of Samuel Haines McAdams and Margaret Ellen Staley. He was about 5 years old when the family moved to Cedar County, Iowa near Tipton. By the time he was 10 years old, the family moved to Ramsey Township near Bancroft in Kossuth County in northern Iowa. The picture of Charles was taken in 1921 when he was 45 years old.
Tornado
When Charles was 22 years old, he married 20 year old Lillian May Whitcomb on July 7th in 1898. Picture She had been living with her widowed father near Bancroft in Ramsey Township, but he died in October of 1897. What she did and where she lived between October and the following July is not known. After Charles and Lillian were married, they lived for awhile in small house on a 80 acre farm 1 mile south and 3/4 miles east of Swea City in northern Kossuth County, Charles' family had moved to southern Harrison Township in 1896. In early 1899, their house was hit by a tornado that lifted the house off of its foundation and tipped it over onto its roof, damaging the house and its furnishings, but neither Charles nor Lillian were injuried. The story that Grandma McAdams told me was that they saw the tornado coming. There was a root cellar below part of the house with access through a trap door in the floor of the house. Charles had gotten down into the root cellar and was reaching back up to help Lillian down when the house tipped over with her still in it and with Charles still in the basement.
Children
Charles and Lillian's first child was born 11 months after their marriage; he was born in 1899 and named Paul Henry The Paul came from his maternal great-grandfather, Paul Knapp. The Henry is believed to be his maternal grandfather's middle name. In 1900, he sold this property to his brother, John Franklin and moved to a farm 3 miles north of Swea City. They farmed for a total of five years, moving to town in 1903.

In January of 1903, a daughter was born and named Clara May; the Clara coming from her deceased maternal aunt, Clara Whitcomb. In February of the same year, Charles sold all of his livestack and moved to Swea City.

Three years later in 1906, their third and last child was born and named Alden Samuel. He was named after his grandfathers, Alden H. Whitcomb and Samuel Haines McAdams.

Early years
After they moved to town, they lived in the same place in the northwest part of Swea City the rest of their lives. In 1923, they tore down the original house on the lot and built a new one.

Charles held many odd jobs during those early years, including a stint as city marshal in 1909. He eventually began work in the local hardware store. He was a bit of a handyman, a mister fix it, and was regarded as the best repairman in the county. This served him well then and in later life. In 1927, he opened his own shop in downtown Swea City just east of the opera house.

By 1930, Charles was suffering from severe bouts of asthma that eventually lead to a weakened heart condition. He was basically disabled and unable to hold down a full time job and had to close his shop. He went to Cheyenne, Wyoming for that summer hoping the change of climate would improve his health. His health was better but the unemployment was high in Cheyenne so he returned to his family in Swea City.

House in town
They owned a small home and plot of land just north of the railroad tracks. They lived on little or nothing, raising much of their food in their garden. Charles made a few dollars fixing and sharpening lawnmowers, the old fashion reel-type push lawnmowers. He also sharpened scythes, large and small, and knives. To test the sharpness of a knife, he would pull out a hair from his head, hold the hair horizontally between the index finger and thumb of his left hand. Then holding the knife in his right hand, he would move the knife downward cutting off small sections of the hair. When he sharpened a reel mower, the reel had to spin freely with no contact of the cutting bar, yet if a strip of paper was inserted between the spinning reel and the cutting bar the paper was cut cleanly. He somewhere learned watch repair, clock repair would be a more proper term, and the house was often filled with ticking clocks that made one heck of a racket when they all began to chime. The house did not have running water and there was an outdoor privey in the back yard. There were two supplies of water in the house, one from a well in the basement and the other from a cistern also in the basement that stored rain water that fell on the house and was funneled through gutters and downspouts into the cistern. The water from the cistern was the only source of soft water and used exclusively for washing clothes, dishes, and the human body.
Golden anniversary
Their 50th wedding anniversary was quite an event. Charles borther, Edward, came all the way from California, and his brother, Homer, came from Washington State. One sister, Nettie, was unable to be there nor was John Frank, but all of his other 7 siblings were there. Lillian's siblings, 2 brothers and a sister, had previously died, so there was no representation from her family that I can remember. Another sister, Clara, had died before Lillian was married.

Later years
In their declining years, Charles and Lillian lived on a state pension system, whereby they deeded their house to the state for a small monthly subsistance income and they were allowed to live in the house until they died. It was in effect what we would call today, a reverse mortgage. With all of the poverty and bad health, Charles maintained his sense of humor and always had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, often times to Lillian's chagrin. He lived to be 84 years old and died in Swea City on April 19, 1960. Amazingly, in the last few years of his life, the asthma subsided and his heart beat strong to the end.